Story, photos, and video by Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Listening to Alaska Natives is the first thing on President Obama‘s schedule when he arrives in Alaska later today.
Listening to a Puget Sound Native leader is something his Interior Secretary probably didn’t expect to find herself doing in her West Seattle driveway while preparing to head north herself.
As first reported here on Saturday, Duwamish Tribe chair Cecile Hansen went to Secretary Sally Jewell‘s North Admiral neighborhood with local activists hoping to deliver a letter seeking a meeting about Jewell’s department denying the tribe federal recognition two months ago. “Ruined my Fourth of July,” Hansen said about that July 2nd decision by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
After gathering a few houses away on Saturday morning, Hansen and the group trouped up the front steps of where they thought Jewell lived (when not in DC).
A man answering the door told them that wasn’t the house they were looking for but wouldn’t say which house that would be. So they then semi-rallied on the sidewalk, reading statements, until one group member spotted Jewell – loading items into a car trunk in a driveway across the street. Over went everyone – including Hansen, surprised. Here’s what happened in the ensuing four and a half minutes:
Though the short encounter was more cheery than confrontational, as you heard, Jewell made no commitment – referring repeatedly to the “complexity” of the recognition issue and mentioning other tribes’ “difference of opinion.” Hansen, asked afterward what she thought, pronounced what she heard to have been “political runaround.” Days after the July denial of recognition, she told media at the tribe’s West Seattle longhouse that she felt especially let down by Jewell.
At the time, there also were suggestions of a grass-roots citizen lobbying effort. That might hold promise, if what happened on Jewell’s street a few minutes later is any indication. A neighbor emerged from a garage a few houses east – one still decorated for what apparently had been a luau the night before – to ask what was going on. Within a blink, Hansen and the activists were gathered outside the garage, making their case to the neighbor and several others sitting inside.
Petitions were circulated. Right after that, we took our leave – the windstorm was kicking up (as you can hear in our video) and people were starting to text about tree trouble. Hansen had said her council would be meeting this week, and that a conversation was due to happen with the lawyer representing them in an ongoing court attempt to force the recognition issue. Seattle’s U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott has tried to push recognition via legislation, but it has idled.
Hansen also hopes to hear from Jewell, who told her she would be back in D.C. after Labor Day, and said she at least would convey the message to Kevin Washburn, her assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, during the Alaska trip, which she noted would be followed by a visit to Eastern Washington tribes. Meantime, since the Saturday encounter, Jewell has made headlines with a gesture to Alaska Natives, announcing that Mount McKinley would be renamed Denali, the name by which it is known to them. The matter of recognizing a tribe – in, as she noted on Saturday, the face of opposition by others – is not as simple.
Chair Hansen reiterated that the Duwamish are determined. Even before the short chat with Jewell, she mused that maybe if the feds remain reluctant, she could take her case to Pope Francis, who is headed to the U.S. in three weeks.
AHEAD: THE LETTER – Read on to see the letter that the activists brought to Jewell’s neighborhood on behalf of Hansen and the Duwamish people:
August 29, 2015
Dear Secretary of the Interior Jewell,
We, the concerned organizations listed below, are writing to invite you to show up in solidarity with the First People of Seattle, Washington – the Dkhw’Duw’Absh (Duwamish) Tribe by meeting with Chairperson Cecile Hansen and other tribal members to discuss their options forward for federal recognition in light of the negative determination posted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs on July 2, 2015. You may already be aware that the Duwamish have lived here for over 2,000 years and yet have been forced into a position to fight for federal recognition, while appealing to politicians and judges whose ancestors are predominately settlers of the U.S., not indigenous to these lands. The tribes’ battle for federal recognition has been going on far too long. We have heard how dehumanizing this process has been for Duwamish tribal members and we are here in full support of preventing further harm and trauma to the Duwamish people.
We are Pacific Northwest grassroots community organizers and activists that support communities facing threats to their economic, social, cultural, and ecological survival. We support people who traditionally have not been aided by governments, who lack finances, and who suffer from the on-going effects of racism, colonialism, and other unjust systems. We consider ourselves community members often acting in ally ship to the Duwamish Tribe and have been recognized as such by tribal leaders and members.
We are hopeful that due to your admirable track record as the Secretary of the Interior concerning Native tribes you will be open to this invitation. We recognize your work for federally recognized tribes of native youth with increasing funding and tribal control of schools, as well as, your work to support the Generation Indigenous (Gen-I) Initiative to allow youth the opportunity to interact with the White House Council on Native affairs. Duwamish youth need your support too! We also recognize your work in pledging the Administration’s support to recognized tribes for the strengthening and preservation of tribal communities and the development of a partnership of state, federal, and private agencies for the preservation of salmon and other wildlife. The Duwamish could also use your assistance in restoring fishing rights.
We hope that your good work will carry into establishing a positive relationship with the Duwamish people as they face current barriers around the federal recognition process. It shames us to learn that they were federally recognized in 2001, only to have their status revoked months later. In the same vein they face the disrespect of another negative determination in regards to their rightful status as a Sovereign Nation and existing tribe.
As you know, to deny the Duwamish their basic human rights under the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855 limits their ability to survive by restricting their access to a reservation, restored fishing rights, rights to other natural resources; federal assistance programs for poverty, health, and education; crime prevention, housing, assistance for climate change adaptation; and ultimately a seat at the table that holds weight in U.S. government. Despite these limiting realities, the Duwamish Tribe remains resilient in maintaining sovereignty by building and operating the Duwamish Longhouse & Cultural Center since 2009, which stands as a community gathering space to carry on the culture, language, teachings, and values of the tribe on their ancestral homeland. This is living proof that the DUWAMISH TRIBE IS STILL HERE and we hope you will visit the Longhouse to attest to the beauty and strength of the Duwamish people whose lands you reside on.
As groups that strive to act in solidarity with the Duwamish Tribe, we, again, urge you to meet with honorable Chairperson Cecile Hansen, the great-great grand niece of Chief Si’hal, and other tribal members. More directly, Sally Jewell, resident of West Seattle, will you listen to the Duwamish people and use your political power to aid them in becoming a federally recognized tribe, during this crucial time? We understand that the BIA allows room for your direction around such processes before making final decisions. Will you remain silent while the Duwamish Tribe goes down as “extinct” in U.S. history further adding to the impacts of cultural genocide or will you stand with the Duwamish? We are hopeful you will stand with the Duwamish as we continue to.
Indigenous peoples have a place in Seattle’s society, and we are proud to share the land with the Duwamish people and to be in friendships and community with them. We have established an alliance along differing cultural and social norms and strongly hold true that our human dignity is honored in uplifting the human dignity of the Duwamish Tribe.
Rising Up in Solidarity and Love,
Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites (CARW)
Rising Tide Seattle